Lawmakers Back Regional Business Reopening Plan Despite Gov Murphy Opposition

By: Daniel J. Munoz, NJBIZ

January 22, 2021


Lawmakers in both parties are advancing a bill that would force the Murphy administration to roll back COVID-19 restrictions on businesses by region based on the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic in that particular area.


Senate Bill 3093 has the support of business groups who’ve criticized the “one-size-fits all” approach of Gov. Phil Murphy. And the measure was backed by Democratic and Republican lawmakers in both chambers on Jan. 21.


The bill creates three tiers for determining the severity of the virus’ spread in each of the 21 counties, based on a seven-day rolling average.


A “green zone” has the lowest risk of an outbreak, while a “yellow zone” indicates a moderate risk of an outbreak and a “red zone” indicates an active COVID-19 outbreak. The New Jersey Health Commissioner – currently Judith Persichilli – would implement a regional reopening plan for green, yellow and red zones.


“By enacting this bill, New Jersey counties can regain autonomy in making decisions that best benefit their community,” one of the main sponsors, Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, said in a Jan. 21 statement.


“By implementing a color-coded reopening system for New Jersey based on local conditions and data, we will be able to effectively keep the economy open in correlation to how the virus is spreading in a specific area.”


The bill was approved in a 5-0 vote in the Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday, and an 11-0 vote in the Assembly Appropriations Committee that same day.


In a statement, the New Jersey Business and Industry Association praised the measure for ushering in “county-based mitigation [plans] to allow businesses to operate during a pandemic.”


“The entire economy and all of our tax revenue would not have to suffer as much with this scalpel approach instead of a blunter statewide edict, while public health will still be appropriately protected where necessary,” NJBIA Vice President of Government Affairs Chris Emigholz told lawmakers.


Murphy has consistently opposed such a proposal, arguing that restrictions and rollbacks should be done on a statewide basis.


“If you and I are in Monmouth County, and the environment in which in a hypothetical case was not conducive to dining, you and I can get into a car and go up to” a county where it’s allowed, like Bergen County, the governor said in August.


Proponents pointed to New York and Pennsylvania, which have regional reopening plans.


“We’re not New York… if you drove from New York City to the Canadian border, it’s a 10-hour drive. It’s hard to get more than a three-hour drive in New Jersey. We’re all packed in together, it’s the densest state in the nation. And from a health care perspective… I personally am of the opinion that steps we take will continue to be statewide steps in terms of reopening,” the governor said in May.


Sen. Joseph Cryan, D-20th District, echoed a similar sentiment on Thursday, suggesting that New Jerseyans might opt to flock from red or yellow zones to green zones.


“Aren’t we inviting the spread of the virus at some level?” he said.